94.7%

Happy birthday, America!

Tara and I are celebrating Independence Day by, first of all, not working on the house. The truth is, there’s very little left to do at this point: all the painting is finished, the hardwood floors are 94.7 percent installed (due to a contractor snafu, they thought 18 boxes of bamboo would cover the job but ended up falling short, so box #19 is on order),  our storage unit is completely emptied out, and we have cable and internet. We’ve got a couch being delivered on Saturday, new carpeting and vinyl flooring being installed on Monday, and movers coming on Thursday to empty out the apartment. Which means we are exactly one week away from moving in. Whew!

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Incomplete or not, our new floors look great!

It’s been a lot of work for sure, but the place is looking really good. And there’s a definite pride in ownership that comes with transforming a place to make it your own through blood, sweat, and tears. That’s something you don’t experience when your new home is move-in ready. (You also don’t experience late nights and sore muscles and hundreds of dollars worth of Lowe’s receipts for paint, but that’s neither here nor there.) I don’t think I would change a single step of the process.

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Tara came up with an idea to paint a mountain mural in the guest room. By hand. I was skeptical at first…

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…but she nailed it.

Second of all, we’ll be bar-hopping downtown in the afternoon/evening. It’s how we spent the 4th last year, and that turned out to be a great day. The weather does not look promising for fireworks; we have had some strong thunderstorms the past couple of days (and nights) and more are expected for the next few days. If we’re able to catch a good fireworks display tonight, that’s great. If not, maybe nature will deliver.

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We have a literal front porch view of storms that develop over the Black Hills.

Last night, we finally had a chance to call Doris’ daughter, Kristi. She lives in Connecticut and was very happy to hear from us. The feeling was mutual – we talked for 40 minutes and learned so much about the house and Doris’ family! Like the fact that their original home was destroyed in the 1972 Rapid City flood that killed 238 people, so they purposely chose to build a new house as high up as they could get on a hill (hence our stellar views). We learned that both Doris and her husband were teachers in the Rapid City school district and that he was quite the craftsman, having built all the kitchen cabinets by hand. We found out the dwarf irises in the backyard have been in the family for 300 years and are descendants of plants brought over from Norway. There were once 50+ rose bushes and a couple of poplar trees in the backyard, and apple trees in the front. We heard about how the family turned the backyard into an ice-skating rink every winter and all the neighborhood kids would flock there. That Doris would pace around the living room nervously every time there was a thunderstorm, smoking an entire pack of cigarettes as memories of the flood that cost them their home (and almost their lives) haunted her. And how she was so beloved that people drove in from three states away for her funeral five months ago.

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We had no idea these dwarf irises had such a storied past. They have been in Doris’ family for over 300 years.

In fact, she wrote a story about our house that was published in a literary magazine! It’s a fascinating read and she’s a pretty good writer. If you’re interested, check it out here.

Kristi is coming to Rapid City next month to get married, and will be bringing us a piece of her mom’s pottery. In exchange, we’re letting her take some of the family’s dwarf irises, which she lamented leaving behind. She seems like a very nice person and we look forward to meeting her and her siblings. Suffice it to say, she is very touched over how diligent we have been in learning more about her mom and our desire to pay tribute to her. If there is an afterlife, I’m confident that Doris totally approves of us.

Have a great 4th!

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365 in the 605

We have officially been South Dakota residents for one year now.

Exactly 365 days ago, we rolled across the state line, two days after leaving the Pacific Northwest behind. I will never forget the feeling of elation when we finally arrived. I can’t ever forget it, because we have photographic evidence.

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This photo, by the way, ended up being our Christmas card last year.

It’s amazing to me how quickly the year went by. They do say the older you get, the faster time seems to fly. The months leading up to our move were unbearably long and we grew impatient. Desperate, almost: we wanted to get started on the next, exciting phase of our lives. A lot of people questioned our sanity when we told them we were moving to South Dakota, but one year later, nobody is second-guessing our decision. How could they? Everything has worked out so perfectly, it’s easy to forget what a huge gamble this was for us both. We quit our jobs without any solid prospects lined up, literally driving into the great unknown. I don’t know a lot of people who would do that (but I’m so thankful to have found a willing partner in this adventure).

We knew how we wanted things to unfold. Our hope was that, a year after our arrival, we’d have great jobs and a new house. It’s amazing how things have lined up so perfectly with that timeline. Tara and I both agree that this move to South Dakota didn’t only live up to expectations; it wildly exceeded them. One year later, neither of us has a single regret.

This makes two summers in a row where we’ve been in the midst of major life-changing events. Our last “normal” summer was 2017, and I have to say, not having something major to do seems like a novelty to me these days. Hopefully, 2020 will be far less hectic.

The house is coming along nicely, though. It was another busy (but productive) weekend. We finished painting the living room, started and finished painting both upstairs bathrooms, and started/finished painting the master bedroom. Tomorrow I plan to knock out the spare bedroom we’ll use as an office. And then there is only one to go: the guest bedroom, which Tara started today. This one required some heavy-duty wallpaper stripping and she has a vision for a mountain mural on one wall, so it’ll take a few days. But certainly by the weekend, all the painting should be finished. Just in time for the bamboo flooring to be installed a week from today!

Here are some before and after pics:

Want further proof that my job and I are soulmates? Last Wednesday, I got paid to go hiking. My company is putting together a feature series of local hikes, complete with video, and I’ve been tapped to do the exploring along with one of our summer interns.  Makes sense since I’m the one writing them. We had the benefit of enjoying a picture-perfect day while on the clock.

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I mean, seriously? How is this my job?!

And this is why nobody thinks we’re crazy for moving out here anymore.

Mr. Incredible Crashed the Party

Advance warning: I hope you like reading about home projects, ’cause we’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing house stuff these past couple of weeks.

Most of our evening and weekends have been spent at the new house. As I’ve mentioned, as sweet a lady as Doris was, her taste in decor reflected her age. Our focus currently is on removing the wallpaper and painting every room upstairs. We have a deadline: the hardwood flooring will be installed on July 1 and the carpet and vinyl on July 8. The good news is, we can move in after that’s done. The bad news? We’ve got a shitload of work to do before that’s done!

We decided to tackle the kitchen first, since it required the most work. There was lots of wallpaper to take down, one of the walls had a surface that required texturing, and the cabinets, cupboards, and refrigerator needed cleaning. Here’s what it looked like before:

And today:

So: progress.

I painted the hallway sage green as well. The living room is a lot bolder – we’re doing it in orange. The shade is a little brighter than I’d expected, but I think it will look good when it’s finished.

Three really cool things happened in regards to the house. Last weekend, Tara stumbled upon the original blueprints and specs in the master bedroom closet. We’re planning on framing them and hanging them in the basement.

Second, we’d known that Doris – the previous owner – was an artist renowned for her pottery. I posted an ad on NextDoor introducing myself as the person who bought Doris’s house. I mentioned that we’d love to honor her by displaying a piece of her pottery in our home and asked if anybody would be willing to sell us something. I got a response from one of our neighbors that she would call Doris’s daughter Kristi and see if she had anything. Well, it turns out Kristi was so moved by my request, it actually brought her to tears. She will be making a trip to Rapid City in October and wants to bring us a piece of her mom’s pottery. And, she gave the neighbor her phone number so I can give her a call. How nice is that? I plan to give her a ring this week. It’ll be great to talk to somebody who grew up in our house.

Last, but not least, Tara had the brilliant idea of looking to see if Doris had a Facebook account. Well, she did…and we found these great photos of her firing up the kiln and making pottery right there in her (our) backyard. This is from 2009, so 10 years before she died.

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It’s funny, there are these circular rust stains on the patio. Now we know exactly where they came from.

I love that we have gotten to know so much about this very interesting woman whose home we purchased. I doubt very many others would go to so much trouble, but it just feels right, you know? She lived there for 46 years. I am going to feel like an intruder for quite a while.

Other than working on the house, we are busy with just plain work. I swear, there’s hardly time to come up for air! But we try to take the occasional break. Thursday evenings there are free downtown concerts in Rapid City, and those are a great opportunity to kick loose and have a little fun (and not paint for a change). We stopped by Thirsty’s last week for a couple of beers and a bite to eat, then wandered over for the Summer Nights show featuring Flannel, a 90s cover band. We even ran into Gregg, our realtor. Not that we recognized him at first, seeing as he was dressed head to toe as Mr. Incredible. With his Aussie accent, he was quite the spectacle. His wife was there, too – wearing a Wonder Woman costume. Don’t ask me why they were dressed up. Maybe they’re into role playing?

The weather has been typical for a South Dakota spring. It usually dawns clear in the morning, and within a few hours, towering cumulus clouds are building over the Black Hills. Most days there are at least a few rumbles of thunder. Friday evening, our painting was interrupted by some pretty impressive thunderstorm action. We couldn’t resist sitting out on the front porch watching lighting flashing all around us. And when it started raining, we went inside and pulled up chairs next to the living room window. We have the best view from our house!

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Hope all you fathers had a great day today! My kids both texted me their best wishes, so I can’t complain.

Lucky Sevens

It’s been an exciting and productive week!

Tuesday at noon, we closed on our house. After signing our names and initialing approximately three million documents, we were handed the keys. What an immensely gratifying moment that was! It felt like I had overcome so much to arrive at that point: a short sale, years of cramped apartment living, a cross-country move filled with  hope but uncertainty. This was the payoff, at long last! The main reason we pulled up roots and took a gamble.

Lucky 7s, I guess.

We immediately drove over to the house. Our house. Could only stay a few minutes since we were on our lunch breaks, but after work, we loaded up our cars and made the first of what will be many trips to move things from Point A.1 (apartment) and Point A.2 (storage unit) to Point B (home, sweet home). I picked up Chinese food, we cracked open a couple of beers, and sat on the back patio, relishing the moment. After smudging the house with sage. One can never be too cautious, you know, especially when the prior owner lived there for 46 years and died there.

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We have also met a whole bunch of neighbors. All I can say is, we live in May-effin’-berry, USA. They have all been so welcoming. They talk about what a great lady Doris was, how all the neighborhood kids grew up together, and how excited they are to have us there. Last night, Kelly from across the street exchanged numbers with Tara. She told us the neighborhood is so tightly-knit if somebody accidentally leaves a garage door open they’ll go close it. And she offered up assistance if we need a hand moving anything heavy, cutting the grass, etc. I can’t believe how damned friendly they all are. Once again, it’s that Midwestern hospitality. It’s a real thing, folks.

Wednesday Tara had to do make cookies and brownies for a bake sale and Thursday my company sponsored an awards celebration for five local nurses of excellence, so we were tied up with other commitments. Last night we were finally able to get back to the house and stayed until 10:00. I cleaned the refrigerator inside out by hand while Tara tackled the basement walls. I also stripped most of the wallpaper – it’s so old, I was able to get it done by hand. Found some interesting things underneath. Like, this cat! A picture emerged of Doris’s young family working on this project together long ago. It made me feel more connected to the house and its lengthy past.

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We’ll be over there most of this weekend; the grass is a jungle once again, and we need to keep cleaning, get started on painting, etc. It’s hard work, but very satisfying, because we are turning somebody else’s house into our home.

Best feeling in the world.

In-tents Weekend

Wow. It’s June now. Meaning we are rapidly approaching our one-year anniversary in South Dakota. Yet, living here still feels like a novelty. I have no idea how that is possible.

It’s going to be a pretty busy but exciting week for us. We officially close on our house at noon on Tuesday. There is some debate over whether or not we’ll get our keys right away; Tara says the title company has to record the deed first. In any case, we’ll have them within a day, which means we’ll have a lot of work ahead of us over the next month. We plan to spend most evenings and weekends at the house stripping wallpaper, painting, cleaning, mowing, and planting. Need to get those things done before all our flooring is installed (scheduled for the end of June). Then, maybe we can actually think about moving in. We are already planning on simple dinners we can make over there, supplemented with takeout.

Also this week: my company is hosting a Nurses of Excellence awards banquet Thursday evening, and I’m traveling to Ellsworth AFB on Friday to meet with a group of people about some great programs they are offering military kids. And the summer issue of our parenting magazine lands. I’m exhausted just thinking of all these commitments.

Knowing full well this would be our last free weekend for a while, Tara and I decided to go camping. (Actually, I’d made the reservations back in March, before we’d even started looking at houses. The timing was just fortuitous.)

We almost bailed at the last minute. The weather last week was nuts – heavy rain caused flooding along Rapid Creek and the surrounding streams. Just when the waters began to recede, we had heavy thunderstorms roll through on Friday afternoon. Lots of rain, lightning, and hail. I was stuck in my car in the Safeway parking lot about an hour before we were scheduled to leave, waiting for the storms to die down. Cancelling was on my mind, believe me, but I didn’t want to be out the $60 reservation fee or the six bundles of firewood, five bags of ice, rack of baby back ribs, etc. we’d already purchased. There was a break in the action around 7:00 so we finally took off, not really sure what the weather was going to be doing at Sheridan Lake.

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This is why we almost cancelled our trip.

Fortunately, it was doing nothing. It was actually a lot nicer in the Black Hills than in town. Still, we rushed to get our tent set up just in case, and started a fire just as the sun was going down. It was a much later start than I would have liked, but the weather cooperated all weekend – other than a couple of distant rumbles of thunder and a few sprinkles Saturday evening, it was fine. That first night was cold, though. Pretty sure the temperature bottomed out around 40º and we were in a tent. Tara and I haven’t slept so closely to one another in a long time, lol.

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Check out that blue sky! No filter needed.

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Bloody Marys are a camping tradition of ours.

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Saturday morning hike in honor of National Trails Day.

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Does this plate scream summer, or what?!

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Saturday evening sunset over Sheridan Lake.

Overall, we had a great time. Broke down camp early and were back home before 10:00. An hour later it was storming like crazy: more lightning, thunder, rain, and hail. We really dodged a bullet!

That’ll most likely be our only camping trip this year, with all the work we’ll be doing on the house.

But you know what? BRING IT ON. We’re both eager to get a little dirt beneath our fingers so we can start this next chapter in our lives!

Week One Done

My first “week” at the new job is now in the can and I am loving every minute of it! I put week in parentheses because it was actually three days, but starting on a Wednesday had its perks. Namely the preceding long weekend.

More on the job in a second.

I wanted to take advantage of the extra days off, so on Monday I hiked Black Elk Peak. Second time I’ve done so since we moved here, and I couldn’t help but marvel over how much things have changed since my trek to the peak last July. That first hike coincided with our one-month anniversary in South Dakota, Tara was about to start a new job, I was still freelancing full-time, and we had exactly one year left on our apartment lease. This time around, I reflected on how much we have thrived since moving here. These first 11 months (yes, it’s been that long already!) have been very good to us. Tara has a job she enjoys so much she actually looks forward to going to work; we are in the process of buying a house; I am debt-free and just started my own dream job. We hoped moving to Rapid City would be a good decision. In retrospect, it has actually exceeded our own wildest expectations.

Tuesday wasn’t nearly as exciting – unless you are the type of person who enjoys hanging out and watching a plumber do a sewer scope on your new property. At least I got to spend some more time in our new house. The irises in our backyard are in full bloom now and look beautiful!

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Not so beautiful? The video of the sewer scope. I’m grateful for the YouTube link (I guess?), but if I never see a hose snaking 80′ through a sewer pipe again, I won’t complain. There is one potential future issue thanks to a rogue lilac in the front yard, but nothing we need to address immediately. Everything is on schedule with the purchase; we got the appraisal back on Wednesday and not only are we on track to close on time, but the sellers are actually wondering if we’d consider an early closing. We can’t do anything until I get my first paycheck from EGMRC on the 31st, but we’re down for closing after that if we can. It just gives us more time to start tearing down wallpaper and painting. We expect to have flooring estimates back sometime next week.

Knock on wood and everything, but do home purchases ever go this smoothly?!

Wednesday was my first day at EGMRC, and I will admit, I was a bundle of nerves. I think that’s pretty much par for the course anytime you start a new job. Fear of the unknown and all that. But within minutes of walking through the front door, I felt right at home. They had my workstation all set up and were configuring my computer. I got a tour of the office, filled out paperwork, and was set loose. I ended up proofing/editing the upcoming summer issue of our parenting magazine and knocked out an article, too. That’s the nice thing about being a writer: there isn’t a steep learning curve. I was happy to start contributing immediately.

About those workstations: they’re just about the coolest things ever. I liken them to cubicles on wheels; they’re partially enclosed for privacy, and because all the electrical outlets are ceiling-mounted, you can roll them around anywhere you’d like.

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Other cool things about the office: the exposed brick, the wall of glass windows, the conference room made out of a shipping container, and the popcorn machine. Yeah…I’m totally digging this place.

The first half of the week was pretty warm. Our high on Wednesday was 85º! After work, a brief but rather intense line of thunderstorms rolled through. The clouds looked wicked and otherworldly.

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Then yesterday, a really strong thunderstorm moved through downtown right around lunchtime. It was right on top of us at one point because a bright flash of lightning was followed immediately by a resulting thunderclap so loud the building shook and the lights flickered. Wild stuff. One other thing about EGMRC: they are a very dog-friendly office. The owner and several employees bring their dogs in every day (on Thursday, there were six of them – and there are only nine employees). Those poor dogs were freaked out by the thunder yesterday.

After work we stopped by Paddy O’Neill’s for drinks and a bite to eat. The rest of the weekend will be pretty low-key by design. This will likely be our last non-busy weekend for the rest of the summer. Tara is working for a few hours this morning, but then we are going to watch movies and hang out at home. The weather has, once again, taken a dramatic turn; it is rainy and only in the low 40s today. There is even more snow in the forecast, though it shouldn’t amount to anything. Some spots in the Black Hills might see a few inches.

That’s all the happenings for now!

An Ode to Doris

I have become obsessed with learning all I can about the woman whose house we are buying. Fortunately, in this day and age, info is pretty easy to come by. Googling her name brought up her obituary and a whole lot of info. Here’s what we know: Doris was 79 when she passed away on February 10. She was a lifelong Rapid City resident, a teacher, and a respected artist renowned for her pottery. She also apparently baked a mean gingerbread cookie. Guests left comments on her online obit, including this gem:

Doris was our neighbor for 39 years. She will be missed. We watched our children grow up together with the band of other neighborhood children, and took joy in seeing grandchildren perched on the “giant rocks” in Doris’ backyard as their parents had before them. We know that Doris has found the peace that she shared with us every day as we looked upon the beauty and tranquility of her garden.

I feel like we have big shoes to fill. More than one person mentioned the backyard and those rocks. They are a prominent feature; I even asked the inspector about them last week. He said they most likely were dug up out of the ground when the basement was being built. Considering she lived there for four decades, I’m sure the house has all kinds of her energy in there. I will admit, I was trying to find out if she died on the property. I found no evidence either way, but if I’m really curious I can always check the county clerk’s office for her death certificate, which lists where a person expires. I do know that she is buried in the cemetery adjacent to the neighborhood. We’ll have to pay our respects one day. Also, if I can ever get my hands on a piece of her pottery, I would love to have that in the house as an ode to Doris.

Meanwhile, we continue to experience odd events around the apartment. Friday night, for instance, the TV downstairs turned on by itself in the middle of the night. I only know this because I woke up at 1:30 and heard voices in the living room. Freaked me out pretty good. Tara suspects Sydney might have accidentally stepped on the remote control and powered the television on. This is a perfectly plausible scenario.

Or would be, if she weren’t sleeping in our bed with us that night.

So, we are joking that it’s Doris. We don’t really believe the deceased owner of the house we are buying is hanging around us all of a sudden, but it’s interesting that these events  (the TV and lamp coming on by themselves, loud banging noises in the empty kitchen) started happening as soon as we made an offer on the place.


After venturing out of town the past two weekends we were hoping for a quieter, more relaxing one this time around, but we needed to get flooring and carpeting picked out because our estimated closing date of June 7 will be here in no time. So we ended up visiting several home improvement and flooring stores and finally found things we liked at Lowe’s.

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We ended up choosing bamboo flooring for the living room, kitchen, and hallway; vinyl sheeting for the bathrooms; and new carpeting for the bedrooms. (We aren’t changing a thing in the basement!) We definitely wanted hardwood, and not only was bamboo the most reasonably priced, but my research shows it’s very durable and is an especially good choice for pets. So, bamboo it is! Lowe’s will be setting up an appointment to take measurements before giving us an estimate. We have a rough idea of what it will cost but are curious to see the final numbers. It sounds like the timing will work out well; they said it’ll take around 4-6 weeks for the contractors to do the installation, which would give us time to strip the wallpaper and paint first.

After all that running around, we dropped in to Murphy’s Pub & Grill for a celebratory dinner. We toasted to my new job, our new house, and Doris in the same place where we made that fateful (and very smart) decision 19 months ago to roll the dice and move to Rapid City. It seemed both appropriate and full-circle.

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The buffalo meatloaf was featured on the Travel Channel and is pretty legendary.

Today, I decided to explore the hiking trails in the hills above our neighborhood. The trailhead is a five-minute jaunt from our front door, and it connects to the entire network of Skyline Wilderness trails that offer great views of the Black Hills to the west, downtown to the east, and the vast prairie. We can even walk to Dinosaur Park from our house. This hiking nerd could not be happier.

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View from the trail in our neighborhood. Our house is somewhere in the center of this photo.

Speaking of, I plan to hike Black Elk Peak – the highest point east of the Rockies – tomorrow. I want to take advantage of my two extra days of freedom before starting my new job. Tara warned me not to fall off a cliff, and I assured her I would be careful. (This particular trail doesn’t traverse any particularly steep precipices, so I’ll be fine.) I told her yeah, that would really suck for you. She replied, it would suck for you even more.

Touché.

 

Lenny Kravitz: Good Luck Charm

If it seems like I’m posting more often than usual these days, that’s because I’m posting more often than usual these days. What can I say? There is a lot going on in my life and I want to record it all for posterity.

Plus, I’ve had lots of requests for house pics, so there is that.

Yesterday, we had our home inspection. These things are always a little nerve-wracking; the inspector could discover something seriously wrong with the house that forces you to back out of the deal. Fortunately, that did not happen. Instead, he concluded our house is in very good shape. It has been well-maintained and obviously cared for; the foundation is solid, the roof is new, and there are no major issues to worry about. There are a few minor concerns, mostly electrical-related issues, but those are easy fixes. We’ll need to have the heating ducts cleaned, replace some outlets with GFCIs, that sort of thing. A chimney inspection is probably a wise idea, too. But all in all, everything looks great. After hearing the story behind our purchase – the out-of-state sellers handling their mom’s estate, the offer they accepted without countering, what we will end up paying –  and thoroughly examining the property, he concluded that we are getting a great deal, especially for this part of town.

What a relief!

Oh, fun fact: the day we first went to look at the house, I was listening to a Lenny Kravitz playlist I made on Spotify. We ended up putting in the offer and it was accepted the next day. So on the way over to the inspection, I figured I’d play Lenny again. And we passed with flying colors. Lenny Kravitz, it seems, is my good luck charm.

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Next step? The bank will order an appraisal. These are taking about four weeks currently, which is a lot faster than we’d figured. After that, we’ll close. Great!…

…except for the fact that our apartment lease does not expire until July 25.

Nothing much we can do about that. Everything has happened much more quickly than anticipated. We hope to take advantage of the overlap by doing the painting and remodeling before actually moving in. But how hard is it going to be to go back to a small apartment every night once we have the keys to a beautiful home? It’ll all just depend on our contractor’s schedule. Apparently a lot of them are booked pretty far in advance. Tara took measurements of all the upstairs rooms this morning so we’ll know exactly how much flooring and carpeting is needed. We plan to jump right on that and start looking at samples as soon as possible. Like, tonight. The clock is ticking!

Worst case scenario, we can “live” in the basement while they’re working on the upstairs. I mean, that’s where we’ll be spending most of our time anyway. We’d just have to keep Sydney corralled.

She is going to love moving for the second summer in a row.

Work has been slow this week. Tomorrow is my last day! Seems like I was just freaking out over giving my two-week’s notice. I’ve had a few proposals to work on and some loose ends to tie up, but otherwise, not a lot to do. I am definitely feeling a disconnect this week. The company just landed a huge contract, one that will be a real game-changer, and everybody has been meeting behind closed doors all week strategizing over the details. I am happy for them, but man, are they going to have their work cut out for them. This company is going to look dramatically different a year from now; I don’t know whether to feel relieved that I’m getting out now, or melancholy about missing out on this big opportunity. Maybe a little of both? My boss has made it a point to remind me at least once a day that “you can still stay!”, ha. I appreciate that, but I am following my heart and excited to begin my new job next Wednesday.

This weekend we might be driving to Sundance, Wyoming to buy a table and chairs Tara found online. “They’ll be perfect for game nights!” she declared. She is not wrong about that. It’s adorable to see her so excited over house stuff.

“Cue the Deer!”

Have you ever seen the movie “Funny Farm” starring Chevy Chase? It’s a 1988 comedy about a NYC sportswriter who moves to a small town in Vermont to pursue his dream of writing a novel. Andy Farmer and his wife, Elizabeth, have a difficult time fitting in with the oddball locals, and eventually decide to sell their house. In order to entice potential buyers, they pay the townsfolk to help make a good impression. Much hilarity ensues, including one scene in which Andy picks up a walkie-talkie and instructs a co-conspirator to “Cue the deer!” At that point a baby doe is released from a pen and trots across the yard, thoroughly charming the couple looking at the house. funnyfarm

It’s a great, underrated film. Check it out.

Tara and I found ourselves living a scene from “Funny Farm” Wednesday afternoon. We had gone to look at a house, a new listing she had emailed to me at 1:00. Stepping out of the car, it was love at first sight. The house was situated in a quiet neighborhood at the base of the Dakota Hogback Ridge, a mountain range that separates the east and west sides of Rapid City and is home to Dinosaur Park, with great views of the Black Hills to the west. Standing there, we heard the soft whistle of a distant train and the cooing of mourning doves. And then a super friendly neighbor across the street waved to us and gave us a great, big “Hello!” The only thing missing was the deer, come to think of it.

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In any case, I was ready to sign on the dotted line right then and there, and our realtor hadn’t even shown up yet. He finally arrived an eternity and a half later and we got to see the inside. The house is an estate; the owner passed away, and her four adult children were handling the transaction from out of state. The interior was definitely dated, but it had a lot of great features – huge kitchen, beautifully landscaped backyard, vintage vertical angled cabinet doors in the bathroom, and a basement that would truly be perfect for our ’70s-loving sensibilities, including the FAKE WOOD PANELING I covet so much and green carpet. Seriously, when we gave our realtor our wish list, we requested the following:

  • West side location
  • 3 BR, 2 BA minimum
  • Central A/C
  • Basement
  • Fireplace
  • Fake wood paneling

We didn’t actually expect to find a house with all those things, but this one was IT. Interesting history with the listing. It hit the market 16 days earlier, but they dropped the price $21,000 Wednesday because nobody liked the decor. Everybody’s feedback was so negative! What does it say about me and Tara that we love what others loathed?

Never mind. Rhetorical question.

In any case, we really liked the house, and decided to make an offer on the spot. The previous weekend, we had found a listing we liked on Sunday afternoon, but by the time we emailed our realtor Monday morning requesting a showing, it was already under contract. Lesson learned: if we liked something, we’d waste no time going after it.

Now, this house is in a very desirable neighborhood and with the drop in price was listed pretty competitively with others nearby. Plus, our realtor was impressed, saying “it has good bones.” (I imagine that’s the first thing realtors are taught to say in realtor school.) I wanted to make a full-price offer because I was afraid somebody else would swoop in with a better one and steal it away from us. There were fresh footprints in the snow out back, evidence that others had been by that day to check it out. But Tara wanted to go lower. We’ll have to tear out all the upstairs carpeting (it’s everywhere – even in the kitchen and bathrooms), remove wallpaper, and paint the walls. There is work to be done. So, we ended up making an offer for $6,000 under the reduced price.

Thursday was agony, waiting for a response. I didn’t get a whole lot of work done. And then, at 3:30, Tara called me with the good news. Our offer was accepted. They didn’t even bother countering.

GUYS, WE JUST BOUGHT A HOUSE!!

house3

The kitchen is huge! And…carpeted. That’ll have to go.

house4

How good will our lava lamps look down here?!

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Love the backyard and the view to the west. We’ll be able to catch some amazing sunsets!

It’s amazing how quickly this all happened. We barely started our search and only looked at one other property! Hell, it’s amazing this happened at all. Five years ago, fresh off a short sale, my credit in the toilet, home ownership seemed like a distant dream. It took a move to South Dakota to seal the deal. That, the dream job I just landed, and the fact that Tara’s entire department is losing their jobs in Vancouver, WA just goes to show how smart we were to move out here.

Now the fun begins. Home inspections, interior work, packing, moving. Feels like we just did those last two things! Probably because we just did those last two things less than a year ago.

All totally worth it, of course.

Eyes on the Prize

Exciting times ahead for Team MarTar. Tara and I now have a realtor and have officially been approved for a mortgage loan. That dream of a white picket fence is actually going to come true!

(Only, I’d take a groovy wood-paneled basement over the fence any day.)

house

We haven’t seen our credit scores yet, but based on the low interest rates and a cap of about $310,000 – much higher than we need (or want), especially around here – I’m guessing they’re good.

That’s a small miracle in itself and one that I would like to dwell on for just a moment. Because, five years ago, the idea of ever being able to buy a house again seemed like an impossibility. Tara’s credit was always solid, but mine, not so much.

Long-time readers will recall that I was forced to do a short sale on my townhouse. It’s not like somebody held a gun to my head and threatened me, but like so many others, I was a victim of the 2008 housing crisis and hopelessly upside down in my mortgage. On top of that, I was still recovering from a 20-month unemployment stint and pretty deeply in debt. Extricating myself from the crappy mortgage and digging myself out of that credit hole felt like a Herculean task when we moved in 2014. I will forever be grateful to Tara for giving me the courage to take such a big step and, more than that, for believing in me. For believing in us. After being a homeowner for 18 years, downsizing to an apartment was tough. But always, I had my eyes on the prize.

Now, it’s almost a reality! One that still seems hard to believe. Moving to Rapid City was a crucial step in turning my literal fortunes around; I simply can’t stress that enough! The low cost of living + the freelance contract with Fuel + full-time employment have put me in a better financial position than I would have dreamed possible even a year ago. Next Friday, I will pay off my very last credit card, leaving me virtually debt-free, with only an easily manageable car payment. It’s an amazing feeling and I can’t help but be proud of myself for turning such a dire situation around.

We’ve been looking at houses around here for nearly two years, but suddenly, we’re looking for real. The right one could come along at any moment, and instead of dreaming of a far-off “someday,” we are ready to pounce. This knowledge makes me view every Zillow listing with new eyes.

Pinch me, I’m dreaming! (But don’t, because if I am, I’d rather not wake up). I am looking forward to documenting this exciting journey here.


We had a blizzard last week. It already seems hard to believe, because even though we ended up with 12″ of snow and missed two days of work, it has all completely melted. Doesn’t take along in the spring, when the temperature can rebound into the 60s in a day or two.

I would guess we’re done with snow for the season, but I certainly wouldn’t put money on that!


Tonight, we have tickets to see John Mellencamp. I’ve been a fan for decades but have never seen him live; we had an opportunity a few years ago in Portland and passed for some stupid reason. I immediately regretted that, so when he announced a tour date in Rapid City of all places, we jumped on it. He’s playing at the civic center downtown and I’m pretty excited. We plan on dinner out first. Possibly Italian, but maybe Mexican. It’ll be a quasi-celebration of sorts for this new journey upon which we are about to embark.